April Zhu is a freelance journalist and writer based in Nairobi, Kenya. She writes about gender, urban inequality, and Chinese–Kenyan relations, and her work has appeared in The South China Morning Post Magazine, VOA News, The New Humanitarian, CS Monitor, and African Arguments, among others. (May 2020)
Kenya’s police force, which can trace a direct lineage back to its colonial-era forerunner, has played a starring role in the Kenyatta government’s management of the public health crisis during the Covid-19 pandemic. The very same Public Order Act that President Uhuru Kenyatta invoked to enable his government’s pandemic measures, is also a colonial relic. These colonial laws, which proved useful tools of repression for Kenya’s authoritarian first two presidents, survived the efforts to bring in constitutional reform and more democratic governance in the 1990s. Now, the Covid-19 crisis has allowed the state to fully rehabilitate the Act’s original function: policing by terror.
One Togolese student in Guangzhou was unable to find a place to stay when he was evicted after his university shut down campus housing. He took to sleeping under a bridge until he was chased away by police. A McDonald’s employee was pictured holding up a sign stating that the restaurant was no longer serving black people. These and many other similar incidents captured on phone cameras traveled online across the world, along with a deluge of comments on Chinese social media justifying such actions and repeating racist stereotypes of Africans as “ungrateful” foreign migrants, carriers of disease, and criminal elements. This was about more than simply pandemic management.